We are all Joseph Ellis

Bill Clinton, O.J. Simpson and Joe Stalin respond to the revelation that the historian lied about his past.


Gary Kamiya
June 23, 2001 12:45AM (UTC)

Following the revelation that noted historian Joseph Ellis lied about his military service in Vietnam, Edmund Morris, author of the much-criticized Reagan biography "Dutch," in which a fictional version of Morris plays a major role, wrote an Op-Ed piece for the June 22 New York Times. "Having been chastised by the eminent historian Joseph Ellis for fictionalizing the story of my life in 'Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,' I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that he has fictionalized his own," Morris wrote. "Actually, I feel no joy in Professor Ellis's discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Well, of course he's woven the fabric of his life partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. Don't we all? Can any of us gaze into the bathroom mirror and whisper, 'I never made anything up'?"

Morris' argument -- that making up false information about important parts of our lives is no big deal because all of us do it -- must have indeed been compelling, because the Times received a number of additional letters on the same subject. Unfortunately, space constraints prevented them from being published. As a public service, Salon offers them below.

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Hi, I'm Janet Cooke. Having been disgraced for making up a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of newspaper articles, I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that the eminent historian Joseph Ellis, too, has had difficulties with the truth. Actually, I feel no joy in Professor Ellis' discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Well, of course he's woven the fabric of his life partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. Don't we all? In fact, I didn't bother with whole cloth at all -- I just went right for the shot silk. It's much smoother and shinier!

Good afternoon. I'm Bill Clinton, former president of the United States. As someone who endured a surreal, slow-motion national humiliation after saying "I did not have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky" on network TV, I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that Joseph Ellis, too, has had difficulties with the truth. Actually, I feel no joy in Professor Ellis' discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Well, of course he's woven the fabric of his life partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. Don't we all? One word of advice, though: If you're going to wear silk, take it to the cleaners. Those stains can be a caution!

Paul de Man checking in from beyond the "grave." Having concealed my wartime "past" as the author of Nazi-collaborationist articles before becoming an eminent post-structuralist literary critic, I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that Mr. Ellis has also had difficulties with the "truth." Actually, I feel no joy in Professor Ellis' discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Of course he's woven the fabric of his "life" partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. Don't we all? As I have demonstrated in my exposition of language's self-understanding of its own mystification, there is no difference between shot silk and whole cloth. And don't finger my tie.

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O.J. Simpson here. Since about 95 percent of the country thinks I butchered two people with a knife and lied about it, I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that a big-shot historian (did I say "shot"? Oops!) has also had difficulties with the truth. Actually, I feel no joy in Professor Ellis' discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Well, of course he's woven the fabric of his life partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. ("Shot" again! Hahaha!) Don't we all? Can any of us who have left our blood spattered all over a crime scene, then grabbed a gun, a passport and a lot of money and driven weirdly around in a white Bronco, gaze into the bathroom mirror and whisper, "I never made anything up"? I know I sure as heck can't!

Joe Stalin, reporting in from the ninth circle of hell. Since I told my countrymen that I was going to "move the nation into a bright Communist future," then slaughtered millions of them, I suppose I should feel some satisfaction at the news that eminent historian and capitalist lackey Joseph Ellis has also had difficulties with the truth. Actually, I feel no joy in Ellis' discomfiture, only a profound sense of unsurprise. Of course he's woven the fabric of his fascist insect's life partly out of whole cloth and partly out of the shot silk of fantasy. Don't we all? As comrade Lenin has written, from a dialectical point of view, whole cloth is merely a stage on the road to shot silk! (Note: Shot silk also makes an excellent garrote if pulled tight and twisted.)


Gary Kamiya

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

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